"Europeans will have to step up their reaction against China after insults, intimidation and sanctions against scholars and MPs. This isn't about siding with America, it's about defending European sovereignty against a bully."
'By the time Antony Blinken's plane touched down in Brussels on Monday night,' writes Stephan Lau of Politico EU, 'America's top diplomat had already acquired an unlikely ally in his push for a deeper transatlantic partnership: China.'
- 'When Blinken meets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Wednesday, however, he will find the mood has shifted and that he has an unexpectedly ripe opportunity to press Europe to reconsider its choice and join the Americans.'
- Here's why.
As has been often noted, the chief thing that distinguishes President Biden’s China strategy from the previous administration’s is the aim to create coalitions to confront China on specific issues.
- The problem with that is that a lot of other countries, especially in the EU, don’t seem ready to get on board.
Thank goodness for Mr. Biden that China is lending a helping hand.
- The most recent example was on display this week.
‘This week Joe Biden made good on his campaign promise to work more with allies to pressure China, coordinating with U.S. partners to impose sanctions over alleged human-rights abuses in Xinjiang,’ says Bloomberg.
- ‘Beijing’s response: Hit back at the allies as hard as possible.’
As the Editorial Board of the Financial Times notes:
- ‘Co-ordinated western sanctions imposed this week on a small number of Chinese officials for their role in human rights abuses in Xinjiang are welcome if overdue.’
- ‘On Monday the US, EU, UK and Canada together imposed asset freezes and travel bans on four officials and a security organisation implicated in the persecution and internment of Uyghurs.’
‘The retribution is modest given the crimes.'
- 'But for the first time since the Tiananmen Square protests were crushed in 1989, western governments have taken co-ordinated action to punish human rights abuses in China.’
Given that China is keen to do its best to prevent the U.S. from bringing the EU into further coalitions – ‘Beijing has in recent years used a divide-and-conquer approach with national capitals to undermine a common EU front’ - you would think that China would have made a measured response. Nope.
- ‘China retaliated against EU sanctions by punishing several parliamentarians, analysts, and Merics, a think-tank on China based in Berlin known for its judicious analysis.’
- ‘It also targeted the committee of 27 member-state ambassadors to the EU who oversee foreign and security policy.’
‘With its Xinjiang abuses and overreaction on sanctions, Beijing has managed the rare feat of uniting the EU on a foreign policy issue.’
- ‘By targeting critics of its actions and analysts who refuse to toe its line, Beijing has demonstrated its totalitarian mindset.’
- ‘By punishing European Parliament members, it has made it all but impossible for that legislature to ratify the “Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” with China.’
This last point in particular is what makes China’s strong reaction to the EU’s relatively innocuous sanctions hard to understand.
- Some have said that China didn’t have that much to gain, so perhaps Beijing doesn’t care if the “Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” isn’t ratified. ·
- Or, as others have suggested, one of China’s purposes in the deal was to drive a wedge between the U.S. and the EU. In that case, the work is already done. ·
- Whatever the reason, China made it clear that asserting what it considers its rights is more important than this agreement.
- [Pro Tip: If your corporate or investment strategy in any way depends on the EU’s ratifying “Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” with China, it’s time to start revising your strategy.]